Champaign-Urbana Public Health District teaming with HCESC for VR training

9/6/2018

Mike Koon, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

After watching a scene, students can answer questions about food safety regulations and best practices.
After watching a scene, students can answer questions about food safety regulations and best practices.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD) is considering an ordinance to require certification for temporary food service managers, like those at fairs or concession stands. In the process, they are working with the University of Illinois Healthcare Engineering Systems Center (HCESC) to create a unique VR training module.

“Right now, we have education requirements for just about any type of food handler except for a temporary food establishment,” said Jim Roberts, Director of Environmental Health for CUPHD. “In these settings there are still food safety risks that need to be managed like keeping food at the proper temperature. By having some training, a temporary food vendor manager could notice an error and take immediate action.”

The CUPHD need coincided with the introduction of the Oculus Go, the stand-alone virtual reality headset that doesn’t require a computer to operate and retails for only about $200. HCESC summer interns Vishal Patel and Corey Zeinstra worked with CU Public Health to develop a VR training module for temporary food vendors using Oculus Go. 

The training involves a 360-degree video scene, which asks the students to notice flaws in a temporary food service video scene. They can use a controller to click on errors they notice and then answer pop-up questions that appear on the screen. Example of errors include not wearing gloves, not keeping food hot, and incorrectly washing and sanitizing dishes and utensils.

“Often the temporary events are staffed by volunteers or non-employees, who bring the habits they have had home, which aren’t always the best” Roberts noted. “By going through this program and identifying these key factors in a real-life event situation, they are able to provide better food safety to the public.” 

Patel and Zeinstra helped write the script, film and edit the training video and work through the interface for the follow-up questions. They presented their work in to CUPHD in late July, are working on making final modifications to the video, and will provide feedback to Oculus on the headset. They set up the module so it could also be run on a computer if desired.

“It was very cool to build,” Patel said. “At this point Oculus Go is not a replacement for VR on a computer, but a nice addition to it. Because of the price and portability, it opens up VR to a wider audience.”

 “In order to make it work, we had to load the video from a file, identify formats within Android and attach the pop-up questions to visible buttons,” Zeinstra noted. “In addition to the logistics of building the module, we had to learn a lot about food safety.”

HCESC Summer Interns gave their final presentations on July 27. Pictured are front row (l-r): Kesh Kesavadas, Director, HCESC; William Wang, Summer Intern; Bryant Collaguazo, Summer Intern; Pavithra Rajeswaran, Research Engineer; Vishal Patel, Summer Intern; Zhengqi Fang, Summer Intern; Naveen Sankaran, Graduate Research Assistant. back row (l-r): Corey Zeinstra, Summer Intern; Jun Pun Wong, Summer Intern; Jeremy Varghese, Summer Intern; Kassidy Zhou, Summer Intern; Tingli Zhang, Summer Intern.
HCESC Summer Interns gave their final presentations on July 27. Pictured are front row (l-r): Kesh Kesavadas, Director, HCESC; William Wang, Summer Intern; Bryant Collaguazo, Summer Intern; Pavithra Rajeswaran, Research Engineer; Vishal Patel, Summer Intern; Zhengqi Fang, Summer Intern; Naveen Sankaran, Graduate Research Assistant. back row (l-r): Corey Zeinstra, Summer Intern; Jun Pun Wong, Summer Intern; Jeremy Varghese, Summer Intern; Kassidy Zhou, Summer Intern; Tingli Zhang, Summer Intern.
“I love the final project because it is real action with corrective video and statements that help cement the information,” Roberts said. 

Virtual reality is a key component of the research conducted at HCESC. On a trip to Facebook, HCESC director Kesh Kesavades met with Oculus developers, who asked his team to test out Oculus Go and provide feedback. 

“Our goal was to see how we could expand virtual reality into mass appeal by using Oculus Go,” Kesavades said. “The idea is to incorporate this new medium for education. It has more appeal to the younger generation than say sitting and watching a Power Point presentation.”

The actual project developed from a conversation between HCESC and CUPHD on how to analyze data. After the summer, both sides see the project as the beginning of an on-going working relationship. 

“It’s been a pleasure working with the University on this,” Roberts said. “We started to think about other projects we can team with such as how to train our inspectors to see violations in a real-time situation and creating food safety training for fast food restaurants.”

“One of our goals is to explore what other areas of healthcare can benefit from VR,” Kesavades added. “Food safety is a problem in every county and every country of the world because even a small break in the chain impacts thousands of people. We consider public health an important part of healthcare and want see how we make our simulation work not only at the high end for places like medical colleges and hospitals, but also for areas like this one, which can equally benefit from healthcare education.”

Kesavades said he has already had some interest from others who have heard about the project, including some from developing countries where food safety is an even bigger concern. He said future projects could also involve sanitation and awareness for controlling obesity and diabetes. 

“We are just scratching the surface,” he said.